Training Your Puppy to Shake
Shake is a great fun behavior to include in training a puppy. I like puppies to learn it for a couple of reasons.
The best reason to teach shake is that it teaches your puppy to let you handle their feet. Later on in their lives, you will need to be able to touch and handle their feet to clip their toenails or to inspect for any foreign object that may be making them uncomfortable and shake is a great behavior for introducing this.
The second reason I like to teach shake is because it’s fun and cute. A puppy that can shake is simply adorable and shows others that you take the time to train your puppy. So, to teach shake, I start with the puppy sitting in front of me, facing me.
Using your treat like a magnet to your puppy’s nose and saying the command “shake”, start to lure his head up and slightly to one side (for this example we will say to the left).
As your puppy’s head moves diagonally up to the left, you will see him shift his weight to his left side. When this happens, his right leg will become lax and his right foot may come off of the ground. It is at this moment that you should catch his foot with your hand and release the treat, praising and shaking his paw while he eats the treat. It will take several repetitions for you to recognize your puppy is switching his weight.
Your puppy may not actually pick his foot up off of the ground so you need to be aware of the laxness of the leg and take the paw. While you are holding his foot, praise and give a treat and play with his toes and pads of his feet momentarily while he is distracted by the food. This will show the puppy that getting his feet played with is a good thing and not something to fear.
You can also apply this same method to teaching shake with the other paw but I recommend you give the other paw a different command like “other one”, “give me some skin”, or “goofy foot”. That way, your puppy will not be confused over which paw you want him to offer.
Once you have been working repetitions of shake to your puppy over several days or weeks, your puppy will begin to associate the treat and the command, “shake” with the behavior and you will be able to drop the luring.
Eventually, after a month or more of working shake, your puppy should be offering it when you ask and not necessarily when a treat is present.
When this happens, congratulations; you have just taught shake!
The most common problem you will have is your puppy not following the lure so far to one side that he shifts his weight and lifts or relaxes his opposite leg. The first thing I would suggest it to make sure you have a very high value treat.
If you are using a treat that is something your puppy gets regularly, he will not be interested enough to follow the lure. Make sure you give him something he doesn’t get regularly like cheese, hot puppys, or chicken. This more powerful treat will keep his attention and ease you in luring the shake behavior.
Another problem is that some puppies will do the behavior the first time and then refuse to do it again. I find this most often in puppies that have a major aversion to having their feet touched. They will refuse to repeat the behavior because, the first time, the puppy didn’t know what to expect and then you grabbed his foot so now, he knows it’s coming and doesn’t want to experience that again.
In this situation, I would move a little slower and start by not luring the puppy but just rewarding when he lets you touch his foot. You could even stroke his paw while simultaneously feeding him with a treat so that he is distracted. When he allows that readily, move to picking his foot up slightly and rewarding for that. The goal here is to get him used to you touching his feet and associating it with something he likes; food.
Once he is comfortable with you touching his feet, you can then begin to teach the shake behavior discussed earlier in this section. It will take you a little longer to train shake to a puppy with an aversion to foot touching but, over time, you will be rewarded with a puppy that trusts you and others to clip his nails and examine his feet.